The seaside town of Biarritz is located on the Côte Basque along the Bay of Biscay in the far southwest corner of France, just over 10 short miles from the northern border of Spain. In the 19th century, it was believed that its Atlantic waters had therapeutic properties and it became a top “wellness” destination for the European elite. In the 1850’s, Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III) built a palace on La Grande Plage (the main beach), which hosted many royals in its day, and which today is the 5-star Hôtel du Palais.
Today, Biarritz is still a popular beach destination, but also well known for its beach casinos and its surfing (who knew you could surf in France?).
The purpose of my visit was to spend a couple of days relaxing at the beach prior to beginning the Camino de Santiago, a looong trek commencing in the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port (about 2 hours east of Biarritz). The 500-mile hike along the foothills of the Pyrenees following the northern border of Spain was to serve as the final adventure of my gap year, taking one month to complete and concluding in the town of Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St. James are purported to be buried. Every year, thousands of people come from around the world to hike the Camino for many different reasons, and it’s supposed to be a life-changing experience. I was excited to begin my trek, and had shipped my fully loaded backpack into Biarritz in advance of the trip. It took ages to prepare for…since one carries everything on one’s back, it’s necessary to keep the weight as light as possible (no more than 10% of your body weight – which is a huge challenge to pack for 30 days), and my best friend prior to taking off for Europe was REI, searching for the lightest weight, quick-drying, non-stink items I could find.
Unfortunately, the Camino wasn’t meant to happen for me, at least not at this time. The day before I was supposed to leave, I was walking along the beach in Biarritz, taking photos, and “pop”, I jammed my toe into a big rock and broke my toe. Who breaks their toe on the beach? I couldn’t believe it…thought I would be able to “walk it off”, but by the time I had hobbled back up to my hotel, I knew it wasn’t good. The hotel called a doctor who examined it and ordered an x-ray for the next day. The results confirmed that it was in fact broken and I was told it would take 6 weeks to heal. After going through the stages of disappointment and frustration, I decided “right, I need a Plan B”. So what does one do in Europe when they are on crutches? How about go to a spa and then go to language school? Sounds good.
The next day I put booked my new itinerary, and after a couple more days in Biarritz, I boarded a plane for the Algarve in Portugal.